Thursday, May 7, 2015

Appropriations, and The Concept of Human Entitlement

Max is back home now, and happily running amok. Even after a full evening, night, and morning with him, I found myself following after him, just watching him and aching with how much I love the little disaster-invoking fur ball. He's oblivious to my residual, PTSD fretting, of course, and seems perpetually surprised to find me hovering, whenever he turns around, and thus merps his little trilling greeting and comes trotting over to me for chin scratches and to offer me love nibbles. I love him all the more for that. The discharge papers from the vet described him as capable of being 'very affectionate' but also capable of being 'quite fractious'. That's Mad Max, just like his namesake.

But onto the meat of this post. I've posted before about Native appropriations, and everything I said in those posts, still stands. This time I'm focusing on a different sort of appropriation, one that the public at large has probably not even noticed, or registered, and one that I'm sure at least a chunk of folks will tell me is simply me taking offense to something unoffensive. But I'm going to write the post anyway.

It all started with a trip to Starbucks. I had gone and gotten Max from the overnight vet, and transferred him to our regular vet for daytime care, and on my way out of town I stopped to nab some coffee goodness for my coworker and myself. While I was waiting for my order, I noticed another patron's shoes. My instant response was *I WANT THOSE SHOES* but then I looked at them more closely, and my insta-love turned into insta-loathing. Such insta-loathing that I covertly snapped a photograph to be used for this post.

Here's the thing. Those shoes are awesome, because they look like actual pointe shoes. The problem is, you don't just 'get' pointe shoes, you earn them. And you earn them by doing years of hella hard fucking work. This is a picture I've seen going around which is a great representation of the sacrifice that goes into gaining the beauty of a pointe shoe.

My point (no pun intended) is, pointe shoes are a right you earn, not an accessory you wear. Before anyone argues with me, I know it's *possible* the woman in Starbucks is a dancer, but her body says otherwise. If she danced, it was years in the past. So what right does she have to wear a pointe shoe, or a shoe designed to look so much like an actual pointe shoe, that at a glance one would think it was a real pointe shoe?

And I don't feel this way only about this specific pair of shoes, and this specific incident. I was rolling in my grave, so to say, over the obsession with fashion riding boots - and 'riding pants' - in recent years. Uh, no. I've spent 26 years working to earn the right to wear riding boots - and let me tell you, honey, even I don't wear the black boots with the brown tops, hunt-tops, they're called. That's formal hunting attire, to be worn only with a red hunt coat (there are numerous regulations) and if you aren't a member of a hunt club, you don't wear that shit. And yet, here I am surrounded by people, many of whom have never even touched a real horse, wearing 'riding boots' and 'riding pants' (For the record, they're called jodhpurs if you're a junior, and you were them with leather garter straps around the leg below the knee, and jodhpur boots. They're called breeches, if you're older and those are worn with tall leather boots, field boots for hunt riders, and dress boots for dressage riders. There are major differences in attire across the disciplines) while I'm just walking around in my jeans, and my breeches and field boots are in the closet, because, you know, I'm not riding a horse, I'm walking down the street. Look at this hot mess, which I found particularly amusing and irritating, with its fake little 'spur' around the heel. No riding boot ever looked like this.

Where did this concept of I'm a human, therefore I'm entitled to wear anything that looks cool come from? I understand such appropriations have been going on for centuries, but they've certainly gotten more profound or, perhaps, more widely visible in recent years. I'm sure much of such visibility comes from the internet and social media. But I still fail to grasp why society in general thinks it's okay to appropriate things. I look at fashion icons (I'm thinking Michael Jackson, whose distinctive style was influenced by various things, but which never actually copied anything that I know of) who created their own style without appropriating cultures or skills. Yes, at some point in their career, I'm sure something was appropriated, inadvertently or otherwise, but they didn't sell entire fashion lines by taking another cultures style. And no, I don't count Cher and her 'Cherokee' outfit as an appropriation because she is of American Indian descent (in part, at least). 

Appropriation has been in the news quite a lot recently, and I think that's a good thing. But I think we also need to take it further. Enough of this picking and choosing what's okay to appropriate, and what's not okay to appropriate. If you aren't of American Indian descent, don't wear something that utilizes one of their cultures, unless it's something you bought directly from an American Indian artist. I wear tons of turquoise, but I don't wear anything with religious emblems, or tribal patterns, not unless it's an item I bought from a Native artist. If you don't ride horses, don't wear freaking 'riding boots' or 'riding pants'. If you're not a ballet dancer, don't wear pointe shoes, or shoes that mimic true pointe shoes. Be aware of crap like Givenchy using words like chola to in their fashion designs, and lines, when they have no right to, and have no understanding of what the word means to those who do have a right to use it. Don't be sporting bindis just because they sparkle. Pierce your nose if you want, but don't wear jewelry designed to mimic the plethora of nose-specific jewelry worn by the various cultures of India, because, you know, those styles mean something spiritually and religiously to those peoples.

Basically, if something being utilized in fashion is defended by the designer as 'simply inspiration' or 'just hair' or 'just makeup' then you need to take a closer look at the designer/company, and why they feel like they have the right to 'just use' whatever it is they've utilized in their fashions. The same goes for popular trends. If it's something that seems cool because it makes you feel like another culture, or whatever, then you probably ought to look at it a second time, and discern whether it's something that was actually inspired by a culture or subset, or if it's something that simply copies an existing culture or subset. 

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